Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh those Cape May diamonds (and other noteworthy activities)

sunset beach

Sunset Beach

Cape May diamonds you ask, well, yes and no. Sunset Beach is located at the very tip of New Jersey State, but this is not your average sandy beach. In fact, this beach is more rock than sand, made up of small pebbles and reflective stones known as Quartz crystals. The crystals originate from the Delaware River, and over time have invaded this beach landscape. When these crystals are polished, they emit a shine equal to diamonds, and the gift shop located on the beach has some good examples, and can give you some tips for your hunt. But the real fun in going to this beach is the finding, and if you have kids, it doesn’t take long before they become quite enraptured with the search for that perfect Cape May diamond. If you find the perfect specimen, consider having it polished and set because Quartz is said to have healing powers, so why not?

Another time you might want to consider Sunset Beach is at sunset of course, not only because of the spectacular views, but also due to the very moving flag ceremony that honors a fallen veteran. Each flag that flies on the beach belonged to a veteran who has passed away, and at sunset the ceremony starts with a recording of Kate Smith singing God Bless America, then The National Anthem plays and the flag is lowered. This year was the first time we attended the ceremony, and only did so because a friend recommended it. Older veterans did the lowering on our visit, and I got a little choked up after seeing others in the crowd saluting. I think my family’s patriotism might have jumped up a notch that night.

Atlantis ship There is also another unusual site jutting out of the surf at Sunset Beach that deserves another look. During World War I, the United States decided to try building a few ships out of concrete instead of steel, but scrapped the project because concrete ships weren’t very fast. One of the ships, the Atlantis, was towed to Cape May and was going to be sunk and used as a base for ferry transport, but on the way the boat got stuck on a sand bar, and you can see the partial remains today. The picture shows the Atlantis and the Lewes, Delaware ferry coming to Cape May.

Dolphin cruises

I wanted to end my Cape May reviews with a few additional activities that you and your family might also enjoy when visiting this quaint little town. As I said earlier, Cape May is a prime spot to observe dolphins feeding along the shoreline, but taking a dolphin watch cruise can be even better. The Cape May Whale Watcher and Spirit of Cape May cruises offer daily excursions to see dolphins, whales, and other marine life, setting sail from the Cape May Whale Watcher and Miss Chris Marina off Washington street as you head out of town. The boats are huge with both an upper and lower deck, and an air-conditioned deck for those who want to get out of the sun. Keep in mind, however, that the front of the boat and top rock and roll the most, so if you think you may get sea sick, you might want to consider another seat.

The crew practically guarantees sightings or you get a return voucher, but the cost of these excursions may scare more than a few families away. The cruises are not cheap ($28 for adults and $18 for children 7-12), but you can always find coupons-sometimes with a buy one get one free-in many of the Cape May tourist guides that float around town. (Many of the restaurants carry displays loaded down with information about many of the attractions and events happening during the summer months.) It’s up to you on whether you feel an excursion is worth the expense, but if you go, I would stick to just the dolphin cruises because the whale watcher cruises are considerably longer and seeing whales is still iffy. My family has always included this little “splurge” in our vacations because you do get awfully close to the dolphins, and sometimes the dolphins hang around the boat to get a better look at you. ocean

Victorian mansions

Why not also consider taking a tour of one of the many Victorian mansions around the town? This year we decided to take a look inside the Physic estate that includes both a house and a small museum/gift shop inside the estates carriage house, mainly because they offer tours directed at the younger set. The tour guide more than aptly describes life back in the Victorian period by explaining the purpose of the mansion's rooms and giving detailed descriptions of some of the many Victorian artifacts contained in those rooms. The cost was about $25, and included a walk through in the museum, and we were invited to join the staff in a free (yes, I think I heard that right, but don’t quote me on it) storytelling luncheon at the carriage house tearoom and cafĂ©. We had other stops on our agenda so declined the offer.

Other activities

There are also four man bicycle rentals so that you can tour the town on your own and rental rates are very reasonable, carriage and trolley tours, a zoo, and neighboring Wildwood amusement park if the kids get a little bored. The fact is, there are many diverse activities at the Cape, but here’s a warning. There is usually a cost involved, so decide what is important to you and choose accordingly. We stay in places with kitchens and prepare most meals at home because eating out can put a dent in the old wallet as well. Remember, your main objective should be relaxing, so don’t fill up all your time with activities, and take the time to just “be.”

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